In the lead-up to the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, “3 Days in June” is an audio narrative of the conflict’s bloodiest battle
Mount Longdon is one of a cluster of rocky hills commanding the landward approaches into Port Stanley, which, on the night of 11 June 1982, in the depths of the South Atlantic winter (one soldier estimates it was -15°C), the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, attacked in a combined, brigade-level assault on what turned out to be the last line of defence by Argentinian occupying forces.
The Paras had marched in for several hours, in the dark, under literally staggering weight, over horrendous terrain, “bayonets fixed, grenades primed, teeth bared and arseholes twitching.” B Company were only about three quarters of the way to their objective when Cpl Brian Milne trod on a mine.
A chaotic night battle immediately erupted, and it quickly became apparent that 3 Para were not up against morose, malnourished conscripts. The enemy were well dug in, their targets were “remote” from any possible medevac, and then the moon rose, illuminating the oncoming Brits. The result was some of the worst close-quarters fighting since Korea. Early on, the Paras lost Sgt Ian McKay to an attack on a machine-gun nest – one of only two VC actions in the entire Falklands campaign. Two more died who were not yet eighteen years old.
Bayonets go through eye sockets. Intestines are pushed back into bellies with shit-covered thumbs. Grown men really do cry for their mothers. One Argentinian wouldn’t come out of his bunker, so a grenade went in. “The mountain was vibrating” from both attacking and defensive artillery.
“It was a fucking nightmare,” and strong words like “unacceptable” were used on the net. On several occasions, orders were politely declined, amid some “forceful” language. It is said that Brigadier Julian Thompson nearly withdrew the Paras from the mountain altogether.
In Three Days in June: 3 Para’s Battle for Mount Longdon, James O’Connell’s relentless montage does a grimly effective job of putting the listener right in the confusion and pure randomness of battle, “a kind of macabre Russian roulette.”
One soldier narrowly avoids being killed by an artillery round when he changes direction after being offered a hot brew. Another gets horribly blown up because he offers to take a map to the CO, so his mate can have a few minutes’ rest. One man had the nick on the end of his nose efficiently cauterised by the tracer round which caused it; O’Connell himself has his nose, cheekbone and right eye shot away.
Over the next couple of days, blokes have to go out recovering bodies. They get dysentery from abandoned Argie rations and from puddle water. Some post comes in, and one guy runs around the battlefield, trying to find an officer to sign the deeds for his house purchase.
Only the wrong helicopters are available, and the wounded lie out in the bitter cold for eight, ten, twelve hours. “I’ve got a christening to go to!” objects one, surreally. A second is in such pain he bites through the chinstrap of his helmet. A third starts singing Simon & Garfunkel to keep himself awake. “There wasn’t a great deal else to do in the situation.”
Captured Argentines are scrupulously triaged and treated on the same basis as the men they were just trying to kill. One is shot while madly trying to escape. Another is so desperate to get on a British helicopter that he jumps at the rails as it takes off and nearly kills himself.
As snow fell on the morning of the 14th, a fatigued 3 Para prepped themselves to start all over again at Moody Brook – until the news came through that white flags had been seen in Stanley. Then it was “Helmets off, berets on!” and into town before Max Hastings liberated it.
One Para had carried a string of Union Jack bunting all the way across East Falkland. “But when we reached Port Stanley, I didn’t have the heart to take it out. We’d lost so many good men… I didn’t feel it was appropriate. I put it in the bin.”
Read in a yeomanly manner, by about a dozen actors, 3 Days in June sounds every bit as authentic as it undoubtedly is, a comprehensive, rock-by-rock account (no stone un-mortared?) of the battle as experienced by each man/section/platoon/etc. in turn. Weirdly, it is only let down by incessant botched renderings of quite standard military terminology: mispronounced proper nouns (including “Long-don”!), mangled phonetics, bizarre emphases (“shell dressing”, “wriggly tin”, “cam cream”), and various persons apparently with the rank of “lieutenant corporal”…(!). For a book by soldiers for soldiers, this seems like something of a blue-on-blue.
3 Para sailed from the Falkland Islands just ten days after their hard-won success on Longdon, and were released immediately on leave. Some were never seen again. Others ended up in psychiatric institutions. The other night, in Stanley’s Victory Bar, a former Para turned schoolteacher was telling me what it was like to join a regiment in which, one night, a traumatised soldier went and dug a trench… in a roundabout in central Aldershot.
James O’Connell spent five years in and out of plastic surgery, and wrote 3 Days in June with a glass eye. He has returned to the Falklands battlefields five times, including in the company of former enemies. “We understood that the only other people who knew how hard the battle was are our opponents…”. The book, I note, includes the roll of honour for the Argentinians.
Three Days in June: 3 Para’s Battle for Mount Longdon, by James O’Connell: audiobook read by Brian Bowles, Colin Mace, Elliot Fitzpatrick, Freddie Gaminara, Geoffrey Lumb, Huw Parmenter, Joe Gaminara, Oseloka Obi, Paul Panting, Penelope Rawlins, Sam Newton, (18h 30m, Monoray, £19.24)